|The French writer Albert Camus opens one of his major writings, The Myth of Sisyphus, as follows: "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest…comes afterwards." In a biomedical society like ours, the value of life and our relation to it becomes one of the most relevant factors for understanding who we are as human beings. The goal of this course is to provide the essential elements for students to assess future difficult life situations in a critical manner.
From the question of informed consent to the very recent debate on health care, this course spans some of the most important social questions of our time: Could an embryo be called a person? Is abortion immoral? In a more secular society, are there arguments concerning the morality of abortion (pro and con) that make no appeal to a transcendent form of goodness (God)? Would it be moral to use embryos for the production of basic materials, such as stem cells, for medical research? Is there any moral difference between active and passive euthanasia? Should we experiment on human beings? If so, what are the necessary conditions to ensure the moral permissibility of such procedures? Lastly, do we, as members of an advanced society, have a right to health care?
These moral concerns are at the heart of our social contract. Students will develop the philosophical skills to analyze and to evaluate conflicting positions on complex moral issues. A major aim of the written assignments is to help students sharpen these skills by practicing them. In this class, we are not merely interested in what certain people believe, but also, and more to the point, whether the reasons they give for their beliefs are good ones.
PHIL 335 satisfies the criteria for Arts & Letters under General Education. The study of Medical Ethics, by the very nature of its subject, concepts, issues, and manner of inquiry promotes open inquiry from a variety of perspectives. In the contemporary context, emerging biomedical technologies, policies, and practices raise some of the most pressing and significant philosophical challenges that we face as a society, returning us to the perennial philosophical question of “the good life.” In analyzing the legal, moral, and philosophical debates that shape current public discourse on a series of controversial topics, this course trains students to approach complex moral issues with analytical precision, moral concern, and reflective judgment. This involves carefully attending to a range of theoretical positions in dialogue with concrete situations and particular contexts.